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2001-10-16

A Thousand People Pack a Local School Board Meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, to Debate the Pledge of Allegiance

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More than a thousand people tried to squeeze into the Memorial High School auditorium in Madison, Wisconsin last night for a school board meeting, with dozens overflowing into the school’s cafeteria.

With 230 people registered to speak, the 5 pm meeting dragged on until 3 in the morning. At issue: patriotism, America, and the pledge of allegiance.

The state of Wisconsin passed a law several weeks ago requiring every public classroom to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or hear the Star Spangled Banner every day–while respecting the right of students not to participate.

But as flags spring up everywhere and racist attacks sweep the country in the wake of September 11, some parents objected to having their children recite the pledge, either for religious or political reasons. The school board tried to compromise by passing a law which ruled out the pledge and offered the Star Spangled Banner–without lyrics–everyday instead.

The backlash was tremendous. Right-wing radio talkshow host Rush Limbaugh urged his listeners to barrage the school board with letters and emails. Within days, boardmembers received some 20,000 calls, emails and letters, many of them hostile. One person wrote: "If anyone is ashamed of saying the Pledge of Allegiance, our flag, or any other symbol of being an American citizen, get the hell out of the country." She wrote, "Pakistan, Afghanistan and numerous other countries await you. Good riddance to you, too." Opponents of the resolution are organizing to recall some of the boardmembers. A conservative state lawmaker suggested that schools that don’t comply with the state law should be cut off from state funding. Last night the board reversed the resolution.

Tape:

  • Sounds of last night’s board meeting in Madison compiled by reporter John Hamilton.

Guests:

  • Bill Keyes, the school board member who first introduced the resolution limiting students’ daily patriotic ritual to the national anthem without lyrics. He was the only member of the school board to uphold that decision this morning.
  • Carol Carstensen, school board member who initially voted for the resolution but reversed her position this morning.

Special thanks to:

  • John Hamilton and Wajid Jenkins, reporters with WORT in Madison, Wisconsin.

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